Thursday, May 31, 2012

This Day in Pixar History: WALL•E Wrap Party and Reason #2 Why We Love Pixar

On this day in 2008, Pixar held their wrap party for WALL•E. When it was released 27 days later, it became a smash hit. Movie goers and critics were surprised that an animated film, with 2 robots and almost no human dialogue during the first 30 minutes, could tell such a heartful and moving love story. It would end up generating over $521 million worldwide and winning numerous awards including the Oscar for Best Animated Feature Film.

But there is a story within the WALL•E wrap party story that I think demonstrates one of the reasons we all love Pixar. This story starts with Courtney Mault. Courtney loved the WALL•E trailer. In fact, she loved it so much she would tear up and cry whenever she watched it. She ended up making a YouTube video of herself watching the trailer, which made the rounds and was even noticed by folks at Pixar. I won't recount the entire story here - her boyfriend blogged about it, and I wouldn't be able to do it justice. But in summary Pixar got a hold of her, sent her a crew jacket for Christmas and then a few months later invited Courtney to the WALL•E wrap party. As any sane person would, she of course accepted and was treated to a tour of the studio and attended the party. At the party, Andrew Stanton gave a speech thanking everyone for their effort on the film. During the speech he mentioned Courtney, how their trailer affected her, how it gave Andrew and the rest of the crew the confidence that they were on the right track with the film. Stanton asked Courtney to stand up and she was met with huge applause from the audience! After the screening, Courtney met Andrew, who thanked her for coming. She had her photo taken with Andrew by none other than Brad Bird! She spent the rest of the party being greeted by Pixar employees. It sounds like it was a very moving and thrilling experience!

I love this story! I love it for a couple of reasons. First, from a Pixar fan perspective it's just an awesome story. Can you imagine being personally invited to a Pixar wrap party? If that wasn't enough, to be introduced by the director, to be greeted by all the amazing artists that we admire?

I also love this story as it gives us insight into the people who work at Pixar. What causes Pixar to open up their studio to fans and other folks, to invite them to wrap parties and send them gifts? To be sure, there are multiple reasons, the others which will be covered in future posts. But for this post, to me, there is a trait shared by all the folks there that I think is worthy to be labeled as one of the reasons we love Pixar. I'm calling this reason #2: they appreciate people.

We have been told by John Lasseter, Brad Bird, Andrew Stanton and many others that it's all about story. And what makes a great story are the characters, their interactions and relationships with the other characters. Pixar spends years working and re-working their stories, delving into the characters and how they would act and behave. The importance of interactions and relationships is ingrained into the Pixar culture. Even their building was built to encourage random interactions - Steve Jobs designed it to have services such as the dining room, mail room and even bathrooms in a single area. Jobs knew that by forcing employees into this area there was a greater chance for unexpected interactions, and out of these interactions might come a new idea, a new story idea, or a way to make a piece of software better.

I believe the people who work at Pixar love and embrace the concept of building relationships. The few employees I have met have been genuinely interested in me and my thoughts. Look how active Pixar employees are on social networks such as Twitter. They really want to know more about people, make an emotional connection with them. Out of these connections and knowledge comes a better understanding of the world, which helps them make better films.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

This Day in Pixar History: Finding Nemo Theatrical Release (UPDATE)

This has been a popular time of year for Pixar film releases. Yesterday I wrote about the theatrical release of Up in 2009. And on this day in 2003, Pixar released Finding Nemo, directed by Andrew Stanton, to theaters. It was attached with a re-released version of Knick Knack. A story inspired by Stanton's own relationship with his son and dealing with an over-protective father and letting go, Finding Nemo made over $70.2 million its opening weekend and ended up with $867.9 million worldwide. It was Pixar's largest grossing film until Toy Story 3 blasted past it on its way to becoming the first animated film to break the $1 billion mark.

You will have the opportunity to see this fantastic film on the big screen again when Disney and Pixar re-release it in 3D on September 14, 2012.

UPDATE: The Pixar Post reported yesterday that Finding Nemo will be available on Blu-ray on December 4, 2012!!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Ed Catmull Speaking at All Things Digital Conference (UPDATE 2)

Ed Catmull will be speaking at the D: All Things Digital conference taking place from today through the 31st in Rancho Palos Verdes, California. Catmull will be speaking about the intersection of entertainment and technology, and will likely include a discussion of his early pioneering work in computer graphics such as motion blur, subdivision surfaces, image compositing and the z-buffer.

This is the 10th year of the All Things Digital conference, which brings in the leading figures from media and technology to discuss the direction of the digital frontier. In addition to Catmull, this year's conference will include Tim Cook, CEO of Apple; Tony Bates, President of Microsoft's Skype Division; Larry Ellison, Founder and CEO of Oracle; Mark Pincus, Founder and CEO of Zynga; and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin.

UPDATE: Thanks to The Pixar Post for reporting on Catmull's talk at the D10 conference. You can check out part of that talk on the All Things Digital website, including a great video of Catmull talking about his early days, where animation is going and Pixar's new animation system that was used on Brave.

UPDATE 2 (June 26, 2012): A video with Ed Catmull and Larry Ellison talking about Steve Jobs is now available on the All Things Digital website, and can be viewed below. Thanks again to Julie and TJ at The Pixar Post for bringing this to our attention!

This Day in Pixar History: Up Theatrical Release

On this day in 2009, Pixar released Up. Directed by Pete Docter, Up made $68.1 million its opening weekend and ended up with $731.3 million worldwide, making it Pixar's 3rd largest grossing film, only behind Toy Story 3 and Finding Nemo. This was Docter's second directorial effort; his first was for Monsters, Inc. He is also directing Pixar's 16th feature film, Inside Out, which is scheduled to be released June 19, 2015. His co-director on Up, Bob Peterson, is now busy working on next year's The Good Dinosaur (releasing on May 30, 2014). You may remember Peterson as the voice of Roz from Monsters, Inc. Pete Sohn, who is co-directing The Good Dinosaur with Peterson, got his directorial start on the short film Partly Cloudy, which was attached to the theatrical release of Up. I find it very interesting how these three film-makers efforts are all intertwined!

Up is one of my favorite Pixar films. I love the creativity and heart Docter brings to his films, and I'm really excited to see Inside Out. Michael Giacchino's score for Up is wonderful, and the Married Life sequence of the film may be the most poignant of any Pixar film (although the ending of Toy Story 3 comes in a close second!).

This film also marks my first trip to the Pixar studios in Emeryville, CA. I was fortunate enough to attend a pre-screening benefit for the Emery Ed Foundation on May 7, 2009. I have a blog post that covers my trip to Pixar with pictures from inside the studio.

Friday, May 25, 2012

AMC Theaters and the Pixar Summer Movie Weekend (UPDATE)

I saw WALL•E today as part of AMC's Pixar Summer Movie Weekend. Starting today through Memorial Day (Monday, May 28, 2012), certain AMC theaters are showing 4 Pixar films - Ratatouille, WALL•E, Up and Toy Story 3. There were only about 10 people in the theater, but it was mid-afternoon. I suspect it will be busier throughout the rest of the weekend. My screening also included:
  • Finding Nemo 3D trailer. This is the same trailer that was recently released.
  • Wreck-It Ralph trailer. This is the first trailer for this Disney film coming out November 2, 2012. I enjoyed the trailer, it had some good humor in it. If you want to hear more about this film, Morgan and Chelsea from The Rotoscopers attended an advanced screening of it and discussed it in a podcast.
  • Brave sneak peak. This was awesome! Most of the film clips were from previously released trailers but there was some new material. And besides the film clips it also had some great clips from director Mark Andrews, producer Katherine Sarafian, Kelly Macdonald (Princess Merida), Emma Thompson (Queen Elinor), Billy Connolly (King Fergus) and Craig Ferguson (Lord Macintosh).
  • Introduction by John Lasseter. He was at the soon-to-open Cars Land at Disney's California Adventure with life-size versions of Lightning McQueen and Mater.
  • The short film Presto, which was originally released with WALL•E. I really like this film, there's so much great humor in it. In John Lasseter's introduction he mentioned that there would be a short film before the feature so I'm guessing each feature will have the short that originally preceded it (Lifted, Partly Cloudy and Day & Night).
UPDATE: I just returned from Toy Story 3, and the short before it was Boundin'. So it looks like the shorts are not those that were initially released with the feature films. I'm interested in hearing from anyone who sees Up or Ratatouille regarding which shorts played in front of them.
I really enjoyed seeing WALL•E again on the big screen. It had been a while since I had last watched it. I noticed much more details like how on earth the backgrounds are out of focus (due to all the dust) but how much cleaner it was on the Axiom. I also love the colors while on earth - the flame from the lighter, the color of the sky when WALL•E is sitting on the bench with EVE. And it has that wonderful score by Thomas Newman! I'm listening to it as I type this.

If you have a chance, and you're close to one of the AMC theaters showing these films, I highly recommend you try to make it to at least 1 of the movies, especially to catch the Brave sneak peak!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Recent and Upcoming Pixar Interviews and Events (UPDATE Again)

Is it just me, or does it seem like there's been quite a number of recent interviews with Pixarians? Here is the list I came up with:
If that wasn't enough, there are a couple of upcoming events:
  • Michael Giacchino (composer for The Incredibles, Up and Cars 2) will be performing with the Dallas Symphony from May 18 through the 20th. Tickets can still be purchased for these performances.
  • John Lasseter will be speaking on a panel for The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The Development of the Digital Animator will be held on Monday, May 21 at 7:30pm at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills, CA. Tickets are available on the Academy's website.
  • As previously reported by both myself, The Pixar Post and other Pixar news sites, Andrew Stanton will be the special guest at a showing of WALL•E at the Hero Complex Film Festival this Sunday, May 20th, at 2pm. In addition to WALL•E, they will be showing a sneak peek of Brave. The Hero Complex Film Festival runs from the 18th through the 20th at the Regal Cinemas at L.A. Live.
  • UPDATE: I forgot to mention that Brad Bird will be speaking at the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco this Saturday, May 19! The title of his talk is "The Disney Treatment: Walt's Versions of Classic Stories." The description from the museum's website states:
 Director (The Iron Giant, Mission: Impossible/Ghost Protocol) and two-time Oscar®-winner (The Incredibles, Ratatouille) Brad Bird will discuss how Walt adapted well-known and even previously-filmed stories and created what are widely regarded as "definitive" versions. From Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to The Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men; Treasure Island to Swiss Family Robinson, Bird will explore the appeal of these tales to Walt-and how his individual and personal viewpoint made them enduring classics.
If anyone is lucky enough to attend one of these events, let me know! It would be great to hear about it!

UPDATE #2: Keith Gluck did an awesome write-up of Brad Bird's event at the Walt Disney Family Museum. I definitely recommend checking it out!

Monday, May 14, 2012

This Day in Pixar History: Pixar Weekend

Last year I attended Pixar Weekend at Epcot at the Walt Disney World Resort. It ran for 3 days (May 13-15) on the last weekend of Epcot's Flower and Garden festival. The event was billed as a celebration of Pixar's 25th anniversary and included information and character meet-and-greets from all the Pixar films. But most of the activities focused on the upcoming release of Cars 2.

The main activities began on Saturday the 14th. For me, the highlight of the weekend were the presentations by Jay Ward (Cars Franchise Guardian), producer Jonas Rivera and composer Michael Giacchino, which took place in World Showplace (the building between the Canada and United Kingdom pavilions built for the millennium celebration). Each gave a presentation on both Saturday and Sunday. Their session were titled:
  • Jay Ward: Cars 101 - Inspiration for all of the CARacters you Know and Love
  • Jonas Rivera: Pixar: Celebrating 25 Years of Animation
  • Michael Giacchino: Behind the Music: A Score is Born
In addition, each night there was a special session with all 3 filmmakers (on Sunday, Cars 2 Supervising Animator Shawn Krause replaced Giacchino). All of the presentations were inspirational and full of fun information. Jay's talk focused on the new characters in Cars 2 and included fun facts like why all but 1 of the racers came from real countries (at one point in the film development they planned on killing one of the racers and felt it would be "impolite" to kill one from a real country!). Jonas gave a great talk about the formation of Pixar and its history. My favorite talk was Michael's. He is so charismatic and told great stories about his childhood, his early interest in filmmaking and how he got involved with Brad Bird and Pixar. Unfortunately I didn't take notes but I think the story basically was that someone inside Pixar who had previously worked with Giacchino took samples of his music and snuck them onto Brad Bird's desk. Bird liked what he heard, and well, the rest is history.

Pixar Weekend also included the Car Masters Weekend. Held at Downtown Disney, there were full-size models of Cars characters like Lightning McQueen, Mater and Finn McMissile.

There was no Pixar Weekend this year, but as The Pixar Post reported a few days ago, the Car Masters Weekend is returning on June 2-3. It will include appearances by Jay Ward and Chip Foose, who helped designed Ramone and the Cars wing at Disney's Art of Animation Resort. I'd love to see Disney and Pixar bring back Pixar Weekend with more guest speakers and artwork. Maybe they could make it an annual event - the presentations were well attended and I'm sure would bring in a number of Pixar fans.

If anyone attends the Car Masters Weekend I'd love to hear about your experience!

Below are a few pictures I took from the event. I want to apologize in advance for the poor quality of the pictures - I took them from my iPhone, which struggles under low light. First are some pictures from the filmmaker presentations.

Jay Ward

Jonas Rivera

Michael Giacchino

Michael Giacchino

Giacchino, Rivera and Ward
View of the 800 person theater prior to the presentations

The Green Army Men showed up to entertain the guests before the presentations started

There were plenty of opportunities for character meet-and-greets inside World Showplace and other locations around Epcot.

Outside of World Showplace, there were large banners for each of Pixar's films, plus a couple for some of the Easter eggs hidden in their films.


There was plenty of other Pixar-related artwork and banners around the parks, mostly at Epcot and Hollywood Studios. And given it was the Flower and Garden Festival, there were topiaries of Cars characters.

Spaceship Earth is in the background with
the Cars 2 logo projected on it

Friday, May 11, 2012

This Day in Pixar History: CalArts First Character Animation Graduating Class

Have you heard of the California Institute of the Arts, or CalArts as it is more commonly known as? CalArts is a widely respected visual and performing arts school founded by Walt Disney in the early 1960s through the merger of the Chouinard Art Institute and the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music. Disney's goal in creating the school was to have a single institution that taught all aspects of filmmaking. In 1975 the school added a character animation program and its first class included such filmmakers as John Lasseter (director of Toy Story, A Bug's Life, Cars), Brad Bird (The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, Ratatouille) and John Musker (The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, The Princess and the Frog), and on May 11, 1979, this first class had its graduation ceremony from CalArts. Later graduates included Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo, WALL•E), Pete Docter (Monsters, Inc., Up), Brenda Chapman (Prince of Egypt, Brave), Mark Andrews (Brave), Ralph Eggleston (For the Birds) and Peter Sohn (Partly Cloudy, The Good Dinosaur).

Have you ever heard of or seen A113 in a Pixar or other animated film? That is a reference to room A113 at CalArts, a classroom that all character animation students will spend time in during their studies. A113 has shown up in every Pixar film and many other animation films and TV shows, and even some live action films like Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, which was directed by Brad Bird.

To see more proof of the influence of CalArts alumni on animation, take a look at this Cartoon Brew article that list most Disney, Pixar and DreamWorks films for the past 13 years with their directors and the director's school. Do you notice any recurring theme?

Below is a fun video of Austin Madison talking about his experience as a Pixar intern while attending CalArts. Madison is now a full-time animator for Pixar and just recently finished working on Brave.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Brave Related Merchandise (Updated)

With the upcoming release of Brave on June 22, there will be a plethora of Brave-related merchandise coming out. The Pixar Post wrote a great article on some toys that are already available. There will also be a number of books, starting as soon as next week. First up are books targeted at younger people. The following books are all being released on May 15:
While not a book on Brave, the La Luna picture book, written and illustrated by the film's director Enrico Casarosa, will also be released on May 15. La Luna will be shown with Brave when it is released to theaters next month.

Next up is The Art of Brave, scheduled for release on May 30, written by Dreamworks story artist Jenny Lerew. From the artwork and trailers that have already been released, I'm sure this will be an amazing book. Throw in a preface by John Lasseter and forewords by both Brenda Chapman and Mark Andrews, and this is a must-have book for any Pixar fan.

Besides books and toys, there is also the action/adventure Brave: The Video Game, coming out on June 19.  And the soundtrack for Brave is also coming out on the 19th. Scotsman Patrick Doyle composed the score for Brave, having also done the scores for Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Thor, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and Nanny McPhee.

UPDATE: One note with these books and soundtrack, they will likely contain spoilers. Posts have been floating around Twitter the last couple of days regarding images being leaked from The Art of Brave containing spoilers. And oftentimes, soundtrack titles may give things away. Enrico Casarosa tweeted that the La Luna book has spoilers and requested people not read the book until after seeing the film. On the other had, Elsa Chang tweeted that A Friend for Merida does not contain any spoilers.

UPDATE: Just today, Disney released a trailer for Brave: The Video Game. Thanks to The Pixar Times for posting this!

Monday, May 7, 2012

This Day in Pixar History: Up Benefit Screening

There are very few ways of getting inside Pixar Animation Studios. One would be to get a job there, or know someone who works there. Another option, and probably one with a higher chance of success, is to attend one of the charity benefits held at the studios. There are a few of these every year. On this day in 2009 my son and I were fortunate enough to attend a benefit for the Emery Ed Foundation. The mission of Emery Ed is to increase funding and bring in new programs to Emeryville's schools. The benefit included self-guided tours of the campus and the building including displays of pre-production artwork from Up, wonderful food served up by the Pixar Luxo Cafe, a silent auction including artwork by Pixar artists, other Pixar memorabilia and items donated by Emeryville businesses. The night was topped off with a screening of Partly Cloudy and Up in Pixar's renowned theater, 3 weeks before its release to the public! The Pixar theater has super comfortable chairs, an awesome sound system, and when the lights are dimmed before the film starts, the ceiling is covered with stars!

Of course, it was an amazing and memorable night! To be able to drive through the Pixar gates and be on campus, well it's hard to describe. I spent most of my time looking at all the artwork, although we were lucky enough to bid on and win The Art of Up book signed by Pete Docter. The only minor bummer? The benefit was only 3 hours long which was nowhere near long enough!!! I was so busy admiring the artwork and building I didn't take time to eat - I believe I was able to sneak one skewer of chicken satay from my son's plate. Even still, I could have spent many more hours looking at the artwork and walking around the grounds.

In addition to the Emery Ed Foundation, the Cartoon Art Museum (CAM) holds a benefit, usually in the fall. Unfortunately, there was no Emery Ed benefit last year for Cars 2 and it doesn't look like there will be one this year for Brave. There was a CAM benefit late last year so hopefully there will be one this year for Brave.

Below are some images I took during the benefit. The Emery Ed Facebook page has many other great pictures from the event. In addition, the Pixar Planet blog has a copy of the announcement for the benefit.

 Waiting for the event to start!

Luxo Jr. and the Ball! Luxo lights up at night!

People milling around the auction items and food during the event.

Some of the artwork and posters (below) decorating the atrium.

The sign outside the men's bathroom.
What's outside the women's bathroom you ask?
Bo Peep!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

This Day in Pixar History: Pixar/Disney Merger

On this day in 2006, Pixar shareholders gathered at the Wattis Theater at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and overwhelmingly voted to merge with The Walt Disney Company. The merger gave Pixar CEO Steve Jobs 138 million shares of Disney, instantly making him Disney's largest shareholder (with over 7% of the outstanding shares) and placing him on Disney's board of directors. In addition, Ed Catmull, who was Pixar's president, became president of the combined Pixar and Disney Animation Studios. John Lasseter, Pixar Executive Vice President, was named Disney's Chief Creative Officer, overseeing not just the studios but also Disney Imagineering.

Disney and Pixar originally announced the merger on January 24, 2006. According to the agreement, Pixar shareholders would receive 2.3 shares of Disney stock for each share of Pixar stock they owned. Given that Disney's stock was priced at $25.99 prior to the announcement, the agreement valued each Pixar share at $59.77, for a total company value of approximately $7.4 billion (of which half belonged to Jobs). I would say Jobs did well with his Pixar investment - he bought the company from George Lucas for only $5 million!

At the time of the announcement, Pixar had not released information on any future films besides Cars, which was being released in June of that year. But there were rumors for a film about a rat living in a fancy French restaurant to be released in 2007, and other rumors that Toy Story 3 was in the works. At the same time, Disney had 2 films in production - American Dog and Rapunzel Unbraided, which we know were released as Bolt and Tangled, respectively.

Below are photos of stock certificates from both Pixar and Disney. Notice Steve Jobs signature on the Pixar certificate.

A good question is, was the merger a good thing for Pixar? What about for Disney? And what about Pixar's shareholders? These are complex questions and deserve their own blog posts. That will have to wait for another day!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

This Day in Pixar History: Pixar Purchases Land in Emeryville

During the 1990s, Pixar was located in rental space in Point Richmond. But Steve Jobs realized that as part of their goal of producing 1 film per year they would need more space for all the people it would require to reach that goal. And not just space, but space built specifically to help the studio succeed, space that would encourage and enhance the collaborative culture that already existed.

So 15 years ago this month in 1997, with cash from their recently completed IPO, Pixar spent $5.8 million to purchase 15 acres of land in Emeryville*. Previously the land was home to a Del Monte canning factory. Groundbreaking occurred later that year and was finished in 2000, with the company moving into the building in November of 2000. The first movie completed in the new building was Monsters, Inc.

Long-time Pixar employee Craig Good has written a very interesting article on regarding the purchase of the Emeryville land. Also, the Monsters, Inc. DVD and Blu-ray home videos have some great features about the building, including a tour around some of the offices and the well-known Love Lounge, plus an Easter Egg featuring the 1st annual Paper Airplane Toss competition!

* To be more exact, Pixar had bought an option in 1996 for the purchase of the land which they then exercised in May 1997. An option, as its name implies, gives the holder (in this case, Pixar) the option or choice of purchasing the land. Pixar purchased the option for $300,000 and was then given some set period of time (probably 1-2 years) to exercise the option and purchase the land. If they decided they were no longer interested in the land, they could let the option expire and not be out any more money (besides the $300,000 used to buy the option). As you can see, the option price was a small percentage of the total price of the land, and provided Pixar the means to begin site development and architectural design without needing to fully fund the entire purchase price.

Here are some images of the beautiful Emeryville campus. Enjoy!